Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Greetings 2012

Dear Friends:

The last few weeks have been a scramble in our household and it took the first winter snowstorm of the year yesterday to remind us that our Christmas letter is overdue. Not that the writing of our Christmas letter is a chore; we derive great joy in connecting with friends around the world and in recalling the joys of the past year.

Elizabeth and Johan
Perhaps the highlight of 2012 was when Elizabeth, her husband Johan and their daughter Sanna moved to Montreal in July.  It is such a delight to have them nearby – they live about 25 minutes away on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in Verdun. Sanna is well established in the Nursery Sunday School at our Montreal Citadel congregation.  Elizabeth’s career continues to progress with the signing of some good record contracts, tours to the USA, across Canada, Europe and Japan and a concert in Toronto’s Massey Hall. Sanna’s passport is already well-stamped as she hits the circuit with her parents. 

John lives in Toronto so we see him when we are in Toronto on business. For Glen that is at least once a month.  John is active on the board of the Canadian Paraplegic Association and is making good headway in the launch of his work in self-care for persons with spinal cord injuries.  If you go to, you will see the web-site that features the work he is doing with his colleagues.  He continues to be active at the Church of the Redeemer in downtown Toronto and enjoys the worship and culture of that congregation.  John will be in Montreal for Christmas and we are looking forward to that.

The Salvation Army Montreal Citadel band remains one of Glen’s great preoccupations.  The band has grown to 22 members and has been very active in community life at Christmas with a number of major Christmas concerts along with other churches and school boards in Montreal. Maybe the thrill of the Christmas run was the band’s interpretation of a magnificent setting of Who is He in yonder stall?  before a capacity crowd at the English Montreal School Board’s Christmas concert last Saturday. Glen is also involved as a member of the board of Booth University College (a Salvation Army university college in Winnipeg) and on the board of Christian Direction, a Montreal-based organization involved in creative urban ministry in Montreal and throughout the French-speaking world.
Montreal Citadel Band
 Eleanor is working two days a week writing and has had a number 
of articles accepted for publication in different magazines. Writing is her passion, a bit like band music is for Glen. Her work as a chaplain at Montclair Residence – a Salvation Army senior citizens’ home - and at The Salvation Army’s divisional headquarters in Montreal fills out her time and brings great satisfaction.  

Eleanor at Book Signing
Our church at Montreal Citadel continues to grow.  Glen leads the band and plays the piano, Eleanor is on the leadership team and we team teach the College and Careers discovery Group, a delightful experience every Sunday morning.  On Sunday evenings (bi-weekly) we are members of a bible study group in Laval, a suburb north of Montreal with an eclectic group of 5 Christian couples. The group is led by Glenn Smith, the Executive Director of Christian Direction. He and his wife Sandy are great friends and the group (which actually meets in French even though half of us are English-speaking) is so stimulating.

Our holidays took us back to Tennessee (a chalet in the Great Smoky Mountains) with a side trip to Charlotte NC and a visit to the Billy Graham Centre. History may have passed the evangelistic crusade by, in a sense, but it was a great experience to see the hand of God in the life and witness of Billy Graham and, most notably, to see the complex web of people over several generations who impacted each other until one of them brought Billy Graham to faith in Christ. The ongoing mosaic of God’s action is a marvel.

In August we were at The Salvation Army’s national Music School where we taught the social justice option. The typical student is a 20-yearold university student and we just love working with that group.  In October, we took another week in Chicago as guests at the Territorial Leaders’ retreat of The Salvation Army’s Central USA territory.

Sanna with her class
In a tough economy the work of Health Partners has its challenges, but the mission is strong and opening up on new fronts.  Glen is, at one and the same time, excited about the new program developments in the health of mothers and children and concerned about financing. We work, pray and trust. We have been able to tell our story on Parliament Hill, in Fort McMurray, Alberta and before the pharmaceutical industry at its annual meetings.

Last Sunday we did the message at the morning worship service at our Montreal Citadel congregation. We spoke on Galatians 4:4, how in the fullness of time God kept His promise in the birth of Jesus. We reflected on a moment 23 years ago, walking through a Paris train station in our Salvation Army uniforms when we were stopped and asked if we could help a single mother with two children who had nothing.  With John and Elizabeth, we went to the crumby hotel room the lady and her two children were living in with some gifts and food. When we knocked at the door of the room, she opened and greeted us with the words: “I knew you would come.  My friend said she had spoken to someone from The Salvation Army, and I knew you would come.”  Her confidence was not in us, but in The Salvation Army.  If people can trust the Army like that, how much more can we trust God who, in the fullness of time, came to our neighbourhood to live among us.
Elizabeth takes Sanna to see Santa

That is why we celebrate Christmas:  IMMANUEL -God is with us.  May the peace and hope of the season stand guard over you this year and into 2013.

Eleanor and Glen Shepherd

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Hospital Visiting Dog in Beaune

Our life and duties with The Salvation Army in France necessitated travel – particularly in summer when we oversaw a series of summer camps.  There were about eight camps in all operating in a variety of sites around the country. Some of them rented fixed facilities.  Some of them rented a property and pitched tents.  Each camp was run by a certified director and followed a pedagogical program that was reviewed by the National Office in Paris and approved by the French government.  The role of the French government in approving the camp, its program and its staff meant that families could use bons de vacances, or payment coupons, issued by the French Social Services with family allowance cheques to offset the cost of registration.

So it was that we prepared to set off on our tour of France to visit the camps.  The plan was to go to the far south-east to visit a scouting camp, work our way back up through the Midi (south) of France near the Mediterranean to visit our centre at Chausses and then up to the area around Le Chambon where a couple of other camps were underway and then continue on to Alsace near the German border where another camp operated.  We would stop in to encourage the camp staff to see how things were going.  We had no illusions that our visits added much to the program, but they did, we hoped; indicate our support of and interest in the camp program and the investment of time and energy by the staff.

Just north of Lyon, on about the fourth day we stopped for a lunch break in a picnic spot on the Autoroute A6.  Beau had been unleashed and was busy rummaging about the campgrounds.  Time was of the essence. We had to get going, so Beau had to be reined in.  John volunteered to do the trick and reached out his hand as Beau tore by.  He nearly grabbed his collar, but the near miss meant that John’s finger was twisted back and, as we later discovered, broken. A detour to the hospital in Beaune, the nearest city, was necessary.  Elizabeth had been left behind at a camp to visit some friends, so we set off to the hospital in Beaune, an ancient city with some marvellous medieval architecture.

It was hot – about 36 degrees Celsius (97 degrees Fahrenheit) so we parked the car in the shade, tied Beau up to the back of the car with a dish of water and went into the hospital.  John was taken in, the hand x-rayed and the decision made to operate to set the finger.  As things inched along in true French bureaucratic fashion, Glen decided that he should go out and make sure that Beau was okay – the sun might have shifted, or his water might be gone.  Imagine his horror when he arrived at the car and found Beau gone.  The leash was hanging limp from the trailer hitch on the car bumper. Where was he?  Was he safe?

Distraught, Glen returned to the hospital, walking up to the doors that opened automatically with an electric eye.  He did not look forward to telling me more bad news on top of the difficulties that had befallen John.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the emergency ward – curtains defining the various cubicles where patients waited for care.  From behind one curtain he noticed a furry white tail.  Then he saw a reddish-brown dog going from bed to bed.  As he continued to walk the realization hit him.  That was Beau – going from bed to bed looking for John.  Once again he dared not speak – this was not the time to call Beau in English.

Beau finished his visit without finding John – he had been moved to an operating room by then – and came out.  Glen grabbed him quickly and shepherded him back out to the car – only this time he stayed right with him for a while.

We were amazed and shocked.  But the dog seemed to take it naturally in his stride.  He was a member of the family and one of the family members was in hospital. It was only appropriate that he assume his duty as a member of the tribe.  We were unable to do a customer survey of other patients who had been visited and we got him out of the hospital before any of the staff had an opportunity to speak to us about his creative work.

As it turned out, the noble dog was ahead of the wave.  Thirteen years later in Fletcher Allen Health Centre in Burlington, Vermont, John’s first arm motion after the car accident in which he broke his neck was to stroke the dog that came to the Surgical ICU unit to visit the patients there.  The hunter-retriever makes a great visitor.
Word Guild Award

Word Guild Award

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Duck Hunting in the Forest of Malmaison

It took about eighteen minutes by car to get to the Forest of Malmaison, a huge national forest at the southwest end of Rueil-Malmaison.  Since the neighbourhood in which we lived was relatively compact we used to like to take Beau there once in a while to have a good sprint.  The forest was huge – with walking paths, riding trails for horses, a couple of good-sized ponds and streams.  Every time we went there were lots of dogs – evidently we were not the only humans who had discovered the benefits of the Forest for their canine friends.  Beau loved lodge meetings where he could run with the other dogs and see who would establish the Alpha position in the pack.  Beau, if memory serves us right, did not do too badly in that.

But the real joy of the Forest of Malmaison, we were to discover, lay not in the dogs but in the ducks. The streams flowing through the forest had been dammed up in a couple of places to make decent sized ponds.  The quiet natural environment made a natural habitat for ducks that settled into the neighbourhood.  On one of his runs through the forest Beau took the path down to the stream and along the pond.  It was then that he saw the ducks – a mother with her ducklings. 

The pond was about 70 metres long and about 25 metres wide.  In jumped Beau, swimming like sixty to reach the ducks.  The mother went into defensive mode, gathering her ducklings about her as the dog approached.  What followed was a prolonged game of strategy as Beau sought to approach the flock and the mother swam around in a circular form, taking her children with her and squawking at the canine intruder.

The spectacle drew a crowd – there were always lots of people about walking – themselves and their dogs.  As the crowd gathered, the Shepherds had an urge to disappear.  We wished to get Beau out of the water.  The size and depth of the pond – not to mention the fact that the water was a bit murky- precluded going in to get him. We could call him, but he would likely not obey since the pursuit of the ducks was a much more interesting proposition than coming with us. Further, for image reasons, calling him was not a good strategy in this situation. Beau only replied to commands in English.  This was not the place to tell the world that the dog in the pond was the dog of foreigners.

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The coup de grace came when a lady arrived very busily and took to defending the ducklings from an undisciplined and unruly dog.  More significantly, her disdain focussed on the owners who should have trained their dog in such a way as to avoid this disgraceful display.   Innocent birds were threatened by a vicious dog – a vicious dog owned by insensitive Anglo-Saxon foreigners to boot.  We quickly discerned that this was not the time to enter into a debate about ducks, dogs or discipline.  Fortunately Beau was tiring – swimming, it seemed, was easier for the ducks than for him. Exhausted he came out of the murky waters, came up to us and shook off the water all over my khaki trousers.  The look in his eyes was one of satisfied exhaustion – I could tell that he looked forward to his next encounter with the ducks.  Quietly we stole away to our Renault station wagon in the parking lot and went home.
Word Guild Award
Word Guild Award

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Allo, Police! Where are my humans? - Eleanor Shepherd

Life and job responsibilities in France involved a fair bit of travel, sometimes with absences of three days or longer form home.  If it were at all possible Beau made the trip with us and we worked out accommodation arrangements as best we could.  On those occasions when he could not come we would speak to our neighbours Jean-Michel and Dimorph to see if they would take care of him. We looked after their animals on the occasions when they needed to be away, so it was a good arrangement.

By and large it worked well.  Beau was never happy to see us go – and regarded us with sullen eyes as we shut the door.  But he would always be there to greet us on our return – dancing with glee, leaping up with his front paws extended and his tail wagging.

We became acclimatized to the routine of going and coming – and we assumed that Beau had similarly adapted.  That was, until the police station trip.

We had been away for just a couple of days and drove home – anxious to get back into our home and see the noble pooch.  Imagine the shock as we opened the front door at 5 rue Claude Debussy and heard nothing.  No running feet, no happy bark, no panting – just silence.  Then Eleanor went to retrieve the mail from the mailbox and saw the letter.  She found an official envelope from the Prefecture de Police in Rueil-Malmaison.  The note informed us that our dog – Beauregard JVB 030 – was at the police station waiting for us. We were asked to call as quickly as possible to get him.

We went to the police station, picked up the dog and brought him home.  He seemed normal – jumping, wriggling and licking as usual.  We were a little off our stride over the event.  At moments like this our foreignness in France always seemed to be an embarrassment.  It is not easy to fit into a new country when your dog makes you stand out in any crowd.

We were never able to completely reconstruct the story, but it would appear that Beau, patrolling the house, became alarmed at what he thought was an unduly prolonged absence on the part of his humans.  His brain recalled the memory of how he had scaled the back fence in pursuit of King and Duke.  Circumstances this time – the disappearance of his humans – necessitated a similar show of bravery and initiative.  Over the fence he went in search of the gendarmes to report the disappearance of his beloved humans.  It is not really clear if a constable picked him up or if he went directly to the police station himself to tell his tale of concern.  In any event, the sympathetic gendarmerie sent us a note to inform us that Beau had been looking for us and to reassure us that he was safe and sound in their keeping.

We took him home, grateful for his concern, and admiring his resourcefulness.  The dog smiled and said nothing, but a new bond between the noble pooch and his dependent humans had been forged.

Word Guild Award
Word Guild Award